Monday, June 04, 2018


I've mentioned this fostering episode briefly before, but it plays in my mind often and it occurred to me again when a carer commented that they were having to consider ending a placement.

One day at a fostering training session I found myself next to a foster mum I'd not met before and we clicked. When it comes to making new friends fostering takes some beating. Meeting people is not why anyone does it, but go ahead and do it and you'll get what I mean.

This foster mum had recently ended a placement, at her request.

We talked so much during coffee we nearly decided to skip the second half of training, we were both learning so much from each other about the nitty gritty of fostering.

The child that moved on had been their first ever placement.  He needed specialist care. Special units exist, they're expensive but do the job. We should feel proud to live in a country where no child will ever be given up on.

She and her partner were relieved to get each other back - a challenging placement can mean a couple have less time for each other - but fearful that their decision spelled doom for their new career in fostering.

Not true. Their second placement arrived a few weeks later. Before I tell you what happened a few words about these two fantastic foster parents.

The foster mum is Sue, her partner is Barry. They'd been together three years. Barry was separated and had a couple of children who stayed with their mum. Sue has never had an enduring relationship, and had no kids.

They went through the process of getting approval to foster full of expectation that they would be told that a couple who had never held down a partnership and one of whom had never raised a child would be hard-pushed to provide the kind of home a foster child would need.

They passed.

And came across so good, so strong, so capable that when a big case came up Sue and Barry got it.

The child was very demanding. They stuck with him for five months before telling their social workers the child needed more than the love and parental guidance which is the staple of fostering. He needed professional help. Which he got.

Then came their second placement, a 10 year old girl called Alice. 

Alice had been sorely neglected; foraged for food, slept rough. Her parents were either entirely absent  or drugged up to the nines.  Social services had been monitoring the situation for some time and decided to remove Alice into care. 

Before Alice arrived at Sue and Barry's the social worker emailed a dossier on the little girl so they could get their heads around her in advance. But nothing could have prepared them for the very first night...

Alice arrived and, as is almost always the case, was very shy and compliant. A sweet-looking child in a floral frock, and with a winsome smile. She seemed a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-the-mouth placement.

Sue made supper, they ate at a table in their living room. Barry helped Sue clear the table and as Sue ran a sink to wash up Barry, standing next to her, pricked up his ears. He could have sworn he heard the front door latch gently click. He hurriedly put down his armful of plates and darted back to the living room.

No Alice. Rather than start a panic he went briskly but stealthily to the front door. It was open. His heart sank. He stepped out, ran to the gate, and looked up and down the road. And there was the floral frock disappearing around the corner.

If ever you are lucky enough to get to know this fabulous couple, beg Barry to tell the story, it makes your heart sing.

Barry had a problem, perhaps the biggest dilemma he'd ever faced. He could run back into the house and tell Sue what was going on, pick up his mobile and hope that he could run fast enough to catch Alice.


He could run straight after her, leaving Sue at the sink to discover the house had become empty with no knowing why. Plus he'd have no phone, no way of alerting anyone to what was happening.

Their fostering career flashed into his mind. How would it look if they ended a placement then promptly lost their second one?

Before he could process all the thoughts he found himself running towards the corner Alice had disappeared around. The way Barry tells it, his gut told him that in fostering the child comes first. No child in his care would be wandering the city streets alone. 

He was in luck. He turned the corner and saw Alice ahead, weaving through pedestrians in the gloom of evening. She didn't know Barry was tailing her.

His head filled up with thoughts. He could probably outrun her if she saw him and fled, but what could he do? What would passers-by make of a man grabbing a 10 year old girl? In any case, even if it were for her own good, in fostering you only resort to restraint as a last resort; if harm to someone is threatened (I've only had to use our training in this procedure twice in my several decades of fostering, so that gives an idea of how unnecessary restraint is).

But blimey, thinks Barry to himself, she's a runaway... she's in danger of endangering herself.

He hadn't time to worry about poor Sue, who would be climbing the walls anytime now.

This is what he decided: he'd continue to watch out for her, unbeknownst to her. Be her guardian angel, unseen, on her shoulder.

Top man.

So on he walked, a discreet distance behind her, along busy streets full of people going home mixed with people coming out to play. The city they live in is a buzzy place. 

Alice seemed to know her way around. Barry remembered that she'd been sleeping rough. Then he saw her stop and talk to a man squatting in a shop doorway. The man had a dog for company and the three seemed to know each other. Barry paused and pretended he was looking in a shop window.

Alice was off again, Barry followed.

A police car cruised past and the foster dad contemplated stopping them and asking for their help. Didn't. How would that pan out with his foster child? She was doing what she does and he'd called the police? No.

The night wore on. Alice strolled on, Barry always there in case she needed him.

The streets quietened around 9.00pm. They'd been roaming for TWO HOURS.

Alice paused and gazed in a shop window. Barry stopped, tried to look casual and turned to look in a different shop window. 

Minutes ticked by. Eventually Alice said, in a clear but slightly triumphant voice;

"I know it's you."

Barry said neutrally; "Alright?" followed by "You ready to come home yet?"


You bet not. Alice had control, something that many foster children seek out. She had something else too, a fine human being looking out for her. Not someone off his head shouting and creating at her like she was the one in the wrong. She had someone who respected her decision to go walkabout, and even supported it, never mind poor old Sue at home.

Barry played the proverbial blinder. Not a foot wrong. Finally, at ten to midnight, with the streets now empty and soulless, she said; "Let's go...home."

Barry swears she said "Home", and that's a big deal.

They walked back side by side, not talking. There were no sterling words of warning from the grown-up. Just a growing trust.

Sue will tell you that she was right off her rocker when they came back, but put on her best act of cool calm and collected. 

Alice went to bed. Barry and Sue talked until near sun-up. Barry had a van to drive.

Short story long; that happened about six years ago. 

Alice is still with Sue and Barry. She never went walkabout again. They also have another foster child in their incredible family. Barry is closer to his own children than ever before. He and Sue could hardly be more in love. They love Alice too, and she them.

ps. I suppose my reason for relating the tale might be that if Sue and Barry had kept their first placement, where would Alice be now? 

pps. Aw... then again, who needs a reason to tell a beautiful fostering story about two beautiful foster parents?


  1. Thanks :-) yes, we are considering ending our first placement. He has been with us for two months and came to us with complex needs and has had multiple placements prior to us. It is exhausting, we have all been unwell, and even our pets are traumatised by his never ending need for attention. I guess the tricky part is knowing when we have had enough or continue hoping it will improve.

  2. Incredibly hard for you all Lily. Been thinking about a lot.
    What respite options have you?

    1. Hi, no respite options as we are only 8 weeks into the placement. The Social Workers feel that its too early on to have him away from us as he hasnt yet attached to me. We are trying using a Youth Programme after school for a few days just to make the school day longer. Our biggest issue is that he is lovely to my husband and mean and horrible to me. He suffers from anxiety so anything different sends him into a spin emotionally, we had to get a babysitter as we had a family event we had to attend and we were away for about 2 hours and he was in full meltdown as soon as we got back, so I dont think respite will help. Thank you for your reply.

    2. Hi Lily,
      It's amazing how often (almost always in my experience) the foster child is easy with the father and hard on the mother. My heart goes out to you; I know from my past placements how saddening it can be when the child almost seems to save up all their frustrations and deliver them to the female carer. It's no comfort when we have it explained to us; reasons of transference or jealous protection of the child's 'real' mother - no matter how inadequate her care.
      Clearly you care about the child - hence your concern that respite would be bad for him, even if it gave you guys a breather.
      You are one wonderful foster mum.